741.5111 European Co-operation/7: Telegram

The Acting Chairman of the American Delegation to the General Disarmament Conference (Gibson) to the Secretary of State

329. Following is memorandum of conversation dictated by Davis:

Sir John Simon called to see me at 10 o’clock this morning. He began by saying he was quite worried about the Prime Minister who was in bad shape and who was somewhat depressed because his speech in Parliament on the Lausanne Conference had not gone over well because of his physical condition and his failure to be more specific. He then said that he wished, first, to explain to me the origin and real purport of the accord with France which was announced yesterday and which he has asked Lindsay to explain fully to Secretary Stimson and, second, to assure me he was prepared to uphold the principles of the Hoover proposal43 and to cooperate [Page 696] wholeheartedly with us in the formulation and adoption of a resolution marking the greatest measure of achievement that is possible, After reading to me the message which he had sent to Secretary Stimson, he said he wished to explain the origin of the accord to which he hopes that Germany, Italy and Belgium will also adhere. He said that MacDonald, realizing that a political appeasement in Europe would facilitate a settlement of reparations and a reduction in armaments, approached Von Papen thinking it better for Germany to take the initiative in view of the French fear of a German démarche with regard to the Corridor or the eastern frontiers.

The Germans were favorably inclined and at MacDonald’s instigation they proposed a political truce. Herriot was suspicious of a proposal coming from Germany and the matter had to be dropped until the last day of the conference when MacDonald broached the question again but from an opposite direction, thinking it was better to have the French propose it. He accordingly talked to Herriot who was favorably inclined but nothing definite was done and it was agreed that further consideration would be given to it. Simon then began to meditate and when he returned to London on Monday he wrote down the four points and telegraphed them to Tyrrell for presentation to the French. The French first demurred over point 2 of the declaration on the ground that a beneficial and equitable solution of the disarmament question might be construed as a concession to Germany and wished to know what was meant by equitable. Simon replied it meant fair play and was intended to reassure Germany and must be maintained. France then accepted. Fearing that Herriot would attempt to construe the joint declaration of policy as an entente instead of an all inclusive method for promoting political appeasement in Europe he had warned them against such an attempt and had received a telegram from Herriot giving satisfactory assurance.

I told him my first off-hand personal impression was that if it were merely an effort to promote political appeasement and was in no sense to be a combination against any one, it might be a very constructive move but that since it grew out of the Lausanne Conference there was the danger of its being construed as cementing a united front with regard to debts and of degenerating into a political combination. He said that it was intended solely to promote peace in Europe and that he wanted to do everything to avoid any erroneous impression to the contrary. I then told him the secret gentlemen’s agreement on debts had had a very adverse effect on American opinion and I was afraid that unless something is done to give the assurance that the accord does not mean a united front on debts and will not serve to block real achievement at the Disarmament Conference it may well prove to be more harmful than beneficial; that I had been astonished at Mr. Chamberlain’s statements in the House of Commons44 which had been construed to imply that American representatives had been kept informed and had tacitly acquiesced [Page 697] in the secret agreement regarding debts; that as he well knew if this were what Mr. Chamberlain meant to say it was untrue because we not only were not consulted or informed about such an agreement but on the contrary had most definitely told the Prime Minister and Sir John that any attempt to tie debts to reparations would be resented in the United States and would have a most harmful effect. He said I was quite right as to what had transpired but that he had not seen Chamberlain’s statement to which I referred as he was not in the House when it was made. I then read it to him and he said that this was most unfortunate because it was open to an interpretation which he was sure Chamberlain did not intend and should be corrected. I told him that Gibson and I had refrained from a public statement categorically denying such an imputation but that Secretary Stimson had denied it and would no doubt continue to do so as long as may be necessary but that unless it is cleared up and denied by Chamberlain himself we may still have to do so. He said that he was glad I had called his attention to this and said he would send a wireless to Chamberlain and communicate with the Prime Minister at once and that this would be attended to.

He raised the question of disarmament stating that they had had a thorough discussion in the Cabinet that he was coming back to uphold wholeheartedly the principles of the Hoover proposal and to cooperate with us in getting a strong resolution; that as to the naval question, he was now satisfied we could ultimately work out a mutually satisfactory agreement but that since they cannot accept in toto the President’s proposals he hoped we would not press for this in the General Commission to the extent of forcing them to oppose this phase of the proposal. I told him it was not our desire to press unduly for full acceptance at least now but that if it were distinctly understood that they would not try to press for their naval proposals which were wholly unacceptable to us particularly with regard to cruisers and battleship replacements we would cooperate in formulating a resolution on the other questions and endeavor later to reach an accord on the navy. This, he said, was quite satisfactory. He then said that he must go to meet another appointment but that he hoped to be able to agree to something really far reaching on aerial bombardment and that he would get together later to discuss the various agreements to be incorporated in the resolution including a reduction in effectives.
My own impression at first was that the British and French accord might degenerate into a method of protecting the British navy and preventing any reduction in the French army. Simon insists that such is not the case as they are in favor of substantial reductions in all branches of armaments.
Having met Simon at a luncheon later today he called me aside to say first that he had communicated to Chamberlain and the Prime Minister the wording of a statement to be issued rectifying the statement that Chamberlain had made in the House and that since the latter was at sea this might be issued by the Government; and second, that the Prime Minister would give out a statement this afternoon [Page 698] which would also simultaneously be given by him to the press here at 5:30 explaining more fully the limited and true import of the Franco-British understanding that it was intended to facilitate rather than block any reduction in arms and that they intend to cooperate with us in upholding the principles of the Hoover proposal. I told him that if the understanding arrived at was a purely internal continental measure and had nothing to do with questions outside of Europe such as debts to the United States or the Far Eastern question it would be helpful to say so specifically. He said that those questions were of course not included and he would incorporate in the statement the clarification suggested by me.”

  1. Telegram in five sections.
  2. See pp. 7683.
  3. See telegram No. 217, July 12, 10 a.m., from the Ambassador in Great Britain, p. 686.